Today at 8:46 a.m. with thousands of other people, I stopped to offer prayers to the victims of the 9/11 terrorist bombing at the World Trade Center. 8:46 was the moment when the plane hit the first tower.
I played “Amazing Grace” on my iPad as my prayer to the victims, families, friends and coworkers. And for myself. I didn’t have grace that moment or the next ones on that September morning because I was too consumed by my job. When my graphic designer came into my office, ashen and unnerved to say a plane had just struck the tower, I barely paused from my email review. I made some trite remark that I cannot remember. Probably something like, huh, that’s awful. Then I told him I had to finish the email I was working on. I do remember the stunned look on his face as he took his 6’4″ frame through the door back to his office.
I regret that moment every year on this anniversary. It wasn’t until the second plane hit that the work-a-day world actually stopped for me. My little band of marketing experts were stunned to their cores. These were people who looked to me to lead and I had let them down by placing work ahead of life. When I realized the seriousness of the events unfolding on the fuzzy reception on the TV in our conference room, I’d like to say I joined the world in the horror that we were under attack. Instead, my first thought was, well, there’ll be no work done today and we’ve got crushing deadlines to meet for the new ad campaign presentation for our president.
I could be kinder to myself, give myself grace for that reaction. Let go of the shame tied to the moments.I could make excuses about the enormous pressure I was under for our group to perform and deliver in an organization with an unrelenting megalomanic culture. Because I did come around to understand that morning there was before and now after.
Some of my people had to go home. They needed to be with their loved ones. My own sons could have been in peril. No one really knew how far the terrorist reach extended. Schools across the nation were sending kids home. When I spoke with each boy, Alex was scared and wanted to be with me and Mark. Adam, less affected, wanted to be home with us if Alex was going home. I can’t remember if Mark left work to meet us at home or if he was the one to pick up our sons at school.
We all watched the news and the endless loop of the two planes incinerated as they hit. The horror of people choosing to leap from the remaining floors only to plummet to their death. President Bush speaking to the nation with words of strength to alleviate fear. I remember walking the dogs in our neighborhood that evening with Mark and the boys, seeing how people displayed the American flag in their windows, from poles and doorways. How silent the sky as no planes flew, except the armed fighter jets from the Griffiss Air Force base headed to the NYC to provide security for the devastated city.
I remember calling our extended family members to connect and comfort each other. Drawing the circle around us to keep our little family of four safe. To answer the boys questions as honestly as possible. To try to remind them that while there are no guarantees, we can’t let the terrorists win by giving into fear. We had to keep living, and moving forward.
I remember what I wore to work that day and how I had to donate the maroon crinkle cotton jumpsuit shortly thereafter because I couldn’t bear wearing an outfit that to me, was my own flag of disgrace. Placing work above life. Never again I promised.
And this is the promise I’ve kept since 2001. Maybe I have received grace after all.